Witness: Yeardley Love suffocated

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- A defense witness in the murder trial of a former University of Virginia lacrosse player says the defendant's ex-girlfriend suffocated while she lay face down in a pillow in her bedroom.

Dr. Jan E. Leestma testified Wednesday in the trial of George Huguely V. The 24-year-old is accused in the May 3, 2010, death of Yeardley Love. Prosecutors say she died as a result of a battering at the hands of Huguely.

In his testimony, Leestma said it was his medical opinion that Love was asphyxiated when blood and fluids from her mouth sealed off her breathing. The testimony did not state how she came to be in that position.

"That could do it," Dr. Jan E. Leestma said of his pillow death theory. During cross-examination, prosecutor Dave Chapman sharply questioned Leestma and asked how much he was paid to testify for the defense. He replied $8,000.

While Huguely acknowledged in a police interrogation that he and Love's final encounter turned physical, he said he did not believe her injuries were serious. He said she had a bloody nose.

His attorneys have argued that her death was accidental, possibly the result of drinking and a prescription drug the suburban Baltimore woman took for attention-deficit disorder. A coroner has said those substances were in her body but not in potentially lethal doses.

Earlier, another defense witness testified that Love's blood alcohol level was higher than recorded in an autopsy.

Huguely has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge and five other counts. He could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder.

The defense began its presentation Wednesday after prosecutor Dave Chapman rested. He called about 50 witnesses, including medical experts who said Love died a result of blunt force trauma that bruised and wrenched her brain.

During earlier testimony this week, Chapman brought to the stand the coroner who examined Love's body and other forensic medical experts. They testified that her injuries, which included bruising from a blunt force such as punch and a torqueing, would have caused bleeding at the base of her brain.

Leestma, who had worked in the Cook County coroner's office and said he has studied some 1,000 brains, also testified that the injuries to Love's brain could have been the result of falling backward. He also said frantic efforts by EMTs to revive Love could have caused bleeding at the base of her brain.

Huguely said he had gone to Love's apartment "just to talk." When she refused to let him in, he kicked through the door. The door and a gaping hole in it have been in the courtroom for most of the trial, which is in its eighth day.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.